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Deborah Harford speaks to Vancouver Sun about rising sea levels throughout metro Vancouver

Rising sea levels throughout metro Vancouver putting landmarks at risk

Granville Island and False Creek at high risk for negative effects of higher water levels

By KELLY SINOSKI, published in the Vancouver Sun August 4, 2012

Vancouver is at risk of losing landmark communities like Granville Island and False Creek unless the city starts taking measures to defend its shoreline against rising sea levels, an urban planner warns.

Andrew Yan, a planner and researcher with Bing Thom Architects, estimates the city will have to spend upwards of $510 million to build and upgrade the dikes and seawalls — plus billions more to buy the land to put them on — over the next century.

VANCOUVER, B.C.: AUGUST 1, 2012 — Andrew Yan (L) and Michael Heeney (R) at Vancouver’s Granville Island, August 1st, where they have done a study on the rising sea levels. Dikes and other infrastructures maybe needed to protect some of Vancouver’s landmarks. 00063078A [PNG Merlin Archive]
Photograph by: Ward Perrin , PNG

“What’s under threat in Vancouver is a lot of our identity; our beaches, our seawall … this is what makes Vancouver such a livable place,” Yan said. “We just need to look at Granville Island and its exposure to sea level rise and what may be required to defend it.”

Vancouver isn’t the only city under threat.

Richmond’s Steveston, which has experienced huge residential growth along its waterfront in recent years, will face significant pressures in the future, Yan said, while south Surrey’s Crescent Beach is already being threatened by a more insidious force: increasing groundwater from rising ocean tides.

“It affects every municipality that touches the water,” Yan said. “Sea level rise isn’t going to separate itself from the boundaries of Vancouver, Burnaby, Richmond or Surrey. We’d better be serious about this. It’s important to plan now as opposed to 50 or 70 years from now.”

BTAworks, the research and development division of Bing Thom Architects, has developed a tool kit for Vancouver, after being inspired by the sea level rise work being conducted in places like San Francisco, New York City, Florida and the Netherlands, to deal with the potential fallout from climate change.

The B.C. government estimates the mean sea level rise by 2100 will range from 80 centimetres at Nanaimo to 120 centimetres in the Fraser delta, potentially resulting in more frequent and extreme high water levels, increased erosion and flooding, higher risks to coastal infrastructure and loss of habitat and cultural and historical sites.

Deborah Harford, executive director of Simon Fraser University’s Adaptation to Climate Change Team, noted all of Metro Vancouver is ranked as at high risk for negative effects of climate change because it has so many people, so much infrastructure and so many assets at sea level. And with the region built on river deltas, she said, there’s also risk of the sea encroaching toward the area’s rivers, leading to “salt wedging” or salination of the region’s agricultural lands and the water supply.

“Things are going to happen that we can’t imagine yet,” said Harford, whose team is comparing climate change in coastal areas including Metro Vancouver, Bangkok, Manila and Lagos. “We have a spectacular advantage in that we can predict our future. We can use those [sea level] models to see which scenarios will work.”In Vancouver, which has a shoreline of 51 kilometres, with another 8.5 kilometres in the University Endowment Lands, about $25-billion worth of the city’s real estate could be negatively affected by rising sea levels — either from spray or inundation — along with existing infrastructure such as roads, sewers, and electrical facilities, the BTAworks report warns.

The report illustrated a number of sea level rise scenarios, from one to six metres, which could affect between three and 13 per cent of the city’s land mass. For instance, sea level rise at the three-metre interval, combined with a severe storm in 2100, would affect most of the city’s shoreline, including the harbour, the southern edge of the city and Granville Island.

And it gets worse: At the four-metre interval, False Creek would revert to its 19th-century boundaries, while Gastown, Chinatown and the harbour would be heavily affected. And at five- and six-metre intervals, the report warns, downtown Vancouver would become an archipelago and the city’s coastline would be “unrecognizable” compared to today’s.

Yan noted it’s not just multimillion-dollar waterfront homes that have to be defended before the seas rise. Metro Vancouver’s sewage treatment plants, all located in low-lying areas, are also at risk, along with the region’s industrial lands, which are increasingly tapped by developers for affordable housing or higher density.

“There’s going to be increasing temptation to move into industrial lands,” Yan said. “But should you be putting people on that type of land knowing that it will be under threat in the future?”

Both Harford and Yan are calling for a more comprehensive plan across Metro Vancouver to deal with the issues, noting if Surrey has a plan in place, and nothing is done at Boundary Bay, Surrey’s efforts won’t make a whit of difference.While municipalities are largely responsible for protecting their shorelines, Harford notes dikes and seawalls are expensive and could affect private property if they end up blocking views. She would like to see more collaboration with the provincial and federal governments on addressing sea level rise in Metro as well as how to pay for it.

Richmond, which manages 49 kilometres of dikes on Lulu Island and Sea Island, is considering raising its existing dikes between Garry Point and London Farm, which could cost $200 million.

A Richmond staff report notes raising existing dikes will present challenges because of limited space and conflicts with developments and construction scheduling, while moving the dike closer to the water’s edge would significantly change “the look and feel of the existing harbour and potentially disrupt sensitive shoreline ecology.”

But Harford argues doing nothing will cost more in the end, and “we have to let the public know this is an issue they have to be concerned about.”

In places like Thailand and Manila, which have seen extensive flooding, “there’s no question in their minds that climate change is happening and they are desperate for help,” she said. “But even though there are many warnings here, people are still going, ‘Is it going to happen to me?’”

B.C. has already experienced sudden storms and massive downpours, which have led to river floods and deadly mudslides, such as the one in Johnsons Landing, where four people were killed, she said.

During the peak of the 2006 windstorm, 250,000 BC Hydro customers were without power — many of them for days — while Vancouver spent more than $10 million to deal with the problem. And in September 2010, heavy rainfall in Vancouver prompted 173 claims against the city and an additional 23 flood reports.The situation has prompted Vancouver to develop an “adaptation strategy,” after the province last year issued a series of guidelines to bolster B.C.’s dikes and seawalls. Dikes are considered high risk — or “high consequence” — when they protect urbanized areas.

Vancouver’s nine-pronged strategy, which aims to protect the city against potential increases in street flooding, sewer backups, damaged forests and heat-related illnesses by 2050, doesn’t suggest specific dike upgrades or costs, but acknowledges work will likely have to be done over time. It notes, for instance, the incremental cost to build a section of the existing Stanley Park seawall to a higher level would be negligible compared with the costs of repairing increased damage from wave action or retrofitting to a higher elevation at a later date.

The B.C. government also suggests the Richmond-Sturgeon Bank Sea Dike, which protects the city from inundation by storm surge and associated wave effects, would require a “future degree of protection” and notes that as the sea level rises over the next century, Granville Island “will become exposed to an increasing risk of flooding and … if protection of the existing land use is adopted as the option, a sea dike will be required.”

In Surrey, city officials are in the midst of a study to determine where and when its dikes will have to be upgraded on a priority basis. In the meantime, city officials have started building sewers and are installing a pump station at Crescent Beach after rising winter tides has resulted in increased groundwater pooling in the streets. The city is also looking at gradually raising the community — by building new houses higher and gradually raising roads and boulevards — to avoid the rising waters.

The city is also taking measures to control brackish water from coming into town and affecting homes and facilities. Meanwhile, there are also heightened concerns about increased flooding from the Serpentine and Nikomekl rivers, which could affect not only the city’s agricultural land but neighbouring communities such as Morgan Creek.

“It’s the fringe areas we’re worried about,” said Carolyn Baron, an engineer with the City of Surrey. “We may not be able to drain the rivers like we did in the past.”

Baron notes much is at stake, including the region’s railways and transportation networks, as well as its ports and airport, and the province should be stepping up to help. “Is it right to have cities managing the costs for all the dikes when it serves the greater good for the country?” she asked.

Harford noted while the problems associated with sea level rise aren’t expected to happen overnight, they have to be considered now. “This is the next conversation that has to happen,” she said. “How much is it going to cost and what will happen if we don’t do it?”

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Community-Based Climate Adaptation Planning: Case Study of Oakland, California

west_oakland_neighborhood.jpgThe Pacific Institute Research Addresses Climate Change Impact Vulnerability and Identifies 50 Strategies for Adaptation Planning

A new analysis based in Oakland, CA, identifies more than 50 strategies for building community resilience and adapting to climate change impacts such as extreme heat, flooding, wildfire, poor air quality, and rising food, water, and electricity prices. The study, Community-Based Climate Adaptation Planning: Case Study of Oakland, California, from the Pacific Institute and in partnership with the Oakland Climate Action Coalition, provides a detailed analysis of climate impacts, vulnerabilities, and adaptation options to inform the development of a comprehensive and equitable climate adaptation plan effort that engages local communities in the process.

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Reports on the Third Assessment from the California Climate Change Center

The California Climate Change Centre has just released Our Changing Climate 2012 the third major assessment on climate change exploring local and statewide vulnerabilities to climate change, highlighting opportunities for taking concrete actions to reduce climate-change impacts.

Of note to British Columbians is the transportation corridors vulnerability map on page 10, showing a number of critical transportation routes (rail and highway) that run through Metro Vancouver, some of which are in the flood plain.

Our Changing Climate 2012 highlights important new insights and data, using probabilistic and detailed climate projections and refined topographic, demographic and land use information.

The findings include:

  • The state’s electricity system is more vulnerable than was previously understood.
  • The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is sinking, putting levees at growing risk.
  • Wind and waves, in addition to faster rising seas, will worsen coastal flooding.
  • Animals and plants need connected “migration corridors” to allow them to move to more suitable habitats to avoid serious impacts.
  • Native freshwater fish are particularly threatened by climate change.
  • Minority and low-income communities face the greatest risks from climate change.
  • There are effective ways to prepare for and manage climate change risks, but local governments face many barriers to adapting to climate change; these can be addressed so that California can continue to prosper.
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Coastal Cities at Risk: How will they adapt to converging climate change impacts?

Low-lying coastal mega-cities, many built on river deltas, are growing rapidly in terms of population and infrastructure asset value and play a pivotal role in the global economy. Global seaborne trade has more than doubled in the past 30 years and, as Hurricane Katrina demonstrated, the effect of a major storm on a port city such as New Orleans can be socially, economically and ecologically devastating. As coastal cities experience increased population growth, urban development and economic activity, the risk of climate change impacts rise simultaneously.

ACT is a research partner in the International Development Research Council-funded “Coastal Cities at Risk (CCaR): Building Adaptive Capacity for Managing Climate Change in Coastal Megacities” research project. This five-year initiative focuses on major coastal cities that are vulnerable to the combined climate change risks of sea-level rise, storm surges with coastal flooding and riverine flooding.

The project twins a national team of Canadian researchers, led by ACT Extreme Weather author and Policy Chair for the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction, Dr. Gordon McBean, with experts in Bangkok, Manila and Lagos. The team selected Metro Vancouver as the Canadian location for study. All four cities face high coastal flood risks based on physical infrastructure exposure and socio-economic vulnerability to climate extremes, storm surges and the effects of sea level rise. They also demonstrate a range of social, cultural, political and economic characteristics that will render the research findings relevant and transferable to other cities.

In a 2007 OECD report, Nicholls et al. ranked the world’s large port cities with high physical exposure and socio-economic vulnerability to climate impacts such as sea level rise, coastal flooding, storm surge, high winds, subsidence, population growth and urbanization. The report lists Bangkok among the top ten delta cities presently at risk, with Manila as the seventh largest vulnerable to wind damage. Based on climate change and growth projections, Lagos will likely have the most population exposed to coastal inundation in Africa. In Canada, the Metro Vancouver region is most at risk from sea-level rise, storm surges and river floods.

One of the fundamental questions that this project aims to answer is: How will mega-cities successfully adapt to, and when necessary cope with, risks posed by the effects of climate change, including sea level rise, in the context of urban growth and development?

It is important to note that exposure can be significantly reduced if protection measures are put into place. For instance, there are many ways in which flood and wind vulnerability can be addressed. Nevertheless, even high protection levels can fail, which means that over time, large exposure in terms of population and assets is likely to translate into more frequent city- or regional-scale disasters.

The policy implications suggest that it is critical to engage in proactive, advance climate change adaptation approaches in both coastal flood risk management and urban development planning to minimize risk and increase resilience. Failure to do so will likely have regional, national and even global consequences.

An Economy and Environment Program for Southeast Asia (PDF) conference in 2008 concluded that the adaptive capacity of both local communities and national governments is limited, and that climate change adaptation research should focus on vulnerable populations and the needs of those who actually use research, such as policy makers and civil society. Furthermore, research should facilitate action on the ground in order to increase the capacity of the most vulnerable communities to adapt.

The CCaR program incorporates the above conclusions by acknowledging that it is a priority to develop disaster resilient cities and adaptation strategies where the focus is on the most vulnerable regions and populations. Project outcomes will include guidelines for better-planned, safer cities in which decision makers have access to the tools they need to reduce vulnerability through effective adaptation.

The CCaR project runs until March 2016. One of the first deliverables is an ACT literature review (PDF) on past and projected sea level rise for the Metro Vancouver region.

by Yaheli Klein
ACT Research Assistant

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Baltutis and Sandford: Canadians are thirsty for a national water strategy

Published in the Calgary Herald, Tuesday, July 31, 2012
Published in The Toronto Star, Saturday July 28, 2012
Written by Jesse Baltutis and Bob Sandford

In the future, prosperous nations will be those with enough water for food, cities, industry and nature — and know how to ensure each gets the amount it needs. But Canada’s prosperity is at risk because our water is increasingly at risk. Indeed, there is a growing awareness that the way we currently manage our freshwater resources poses significant challenges to our ability to ensure the future environmental well-being and economic prosperity of our country.

Jurisdictions across Canada face water-related concerns. Alberta, with its vast oilsands, currently has the most vigorous economy. Yet, the consequences of extracting the heavy crude are being felt downriver in the Northwest Territories. Collaboration, communication and engagement between the governments of Alberta and the N.W.T., communities and First Nations is critical to developing a comprehensive action plan for how best to safeguard water quality and quantity within the Athabasca River, and consequently, the larger Mackenzie River Basin.

Overarching national concerns include critical supply and quality challenges related to a changing climate and increasing population pressures, accompanied by a growing concern for our watersheds, which are vital for sustainable and prosperous communities.

Despite these threats, many Canadians believe in the myth of limitless water. We are among the world’s most prolific users — and abusers — of water. According to Environment Canada, over the 10-year period from 1996 to 2006, our collective water withdrawals increased by 13 per cent. Even more alarming is the rate of withdrawal between 1972 and 2006 — a whopping 112.5 per cent increase.

Yet water is so deeply woven into the very fabric of what it means to be Canadian, that in a 2012 RBC water attitudes poll, Canadians overwhelmingly agreed that it is our most valuable natural resource.

Canada needs a national water strategy. This was the message Canadians delivered during the Forum for Leadership on Water’s cross-Canada discussion tour held last fall. Water expert and forum co-chair Bob Sandford — one of the authors of this opinion piece — visited 16 cities to share lessons learned from the Northwest Territories Water Stewardship Strategy. Sandford talked with Canadians about how the innovative N.W.T. strategy could serve as a model for water policy reform in the rest of Canada, and at the same time, was struck by the critical water challenges that already exist across southern Canada as a result of changes in climate and intensifying demands on freshwater resources.

One need only look to the floods and droughts experienced in Manitoba in 2011, which caused almost $1 billion in damages, to recognize the scale of the challenges we are facing. Regardless of whether we are on the “wet” coast of British Columbia, the vast expanse of the N.W.T.’s arctic tundra, or the burgeoning technology centres of southern Ontario, we must rethink our approach to managing water. Pan-Canadian water challenges demand and deserve a comprehensive response.

The recently released report, Cross-Canada Checkup: A Canadian Perspective on Our Water Future, captures the essence of what Sandford heard from panellists and audience members during the tour.

The report, co-authored and published by the POLIS Project on Ecological Governance at the University of Victoria and the Adaptation to Climate Change Team at Simon Fraser University, illustrates that concerned Canadians are increasingly aware of the need for a national strategy, especially because water management decisions based on historical climate trends are no longer sufficient to address the challenges surrounding future water management.

The national tour confirmed what many in the water policy community already know: lawmakers need a more fundamental analysis of how we use our water supplies, why we make certain choices to use water in the ways we do, how we will plan for the future, and what our governance structures will need to look like.

Alberta is at a significant bend in the proverbial river. The province faces an absence of leadership on water — a hindrance to effectively addressing current and future water challenges. We cannot afford to wait for a crisis to prompt action, which will involve overcoming entrenched and misguided beliefs on the limitless availability of clean, fresh water.

To meet current and emerging water challenges in Alberta, it is essential to establish the building blocks of effective water management policies, such as water metering and a modernized water licensing system, so that water is available where and when it is needed.

More than any other issue in Canada, water has the power to unite Canadians, transcending differences in political philosophy, ethnicity, or geographical location. We all share the most basic of needs: clean water for our families and communities. To provide for this, it is critical to have healthy ecological systems that function within responsibly managed watersheds. Our natural environment has been left to us in trust for future generations, who will likely be faced with far greater environmental challenges and increasing economic and social uncertainty.

By clearly identifying government’s role — and crucially, enabling community and citizen engagement — Canada will signal that it is serious about tackling those threats and challenges to our water resources that we so often associate with tomorrow, yet have started to rear their head today.

Bob Sandford is EPCOR Chair of the Canadian Partnership Initiative of the UN Water for Life Decade, director of the Western Watersheds Climate Research Collaborative, and co-chair of the Forum for Leadership On Water (FLOW).

Jesse Baltutis is the Water Policy and Governance Research Assistant with the University of Victoria’s POLIS Project on Ecological Governance.

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Is the Emperor Penguin the New Polar Bear? Shifts in Ecosystems and Species Ranges Highlight Climate Changes

On July 16 the CBC posted an article about entomology expert Dr. Maxim Larrivée finding giant swallowtail caterpillars at the Montreal Botanical Gardens awaiting metamorphosis.

With a wingspan of 10-16 cm, the swallowtail is the largest butterfly in Canada and an exciting find. What is truly astonishing is its location. As a result of changing climate conditions over the last 10 years, the swallowtail butterfly has migrated 400 km north.

According to Larrivée, this type of finding is becoming more and more common; at least 10 other species have migrated or expanded their range in a similar way, though none quite so much as the swallowtail.

“From a standpoint of range expansion and adaptation to climate change, this guy is the champion,” says Larrivée.

Unfortunately, other species may not adapt to new conditions quite so easily. A 2009 study led by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Minnesota suggests that the number of breeding pairs of the Emperor Penguin could shrink from approximately 3,000 to just 400 by the end of the century, pushing the species towards extinction. The species depends on sea ice for survival, and even normal fluctuations in sea ice cover have impacted populations in the past. As the climate changes, the increasingly significant lessening of sea ice cover may go beyond the penguin’s ability to cope: another example of what scientists are calling the “loss of stationarity” – the expansion of the severity of weather events to a level we have never seen before in human history.

Indeed, the rate at which ecosystems are changing is faster than scientists had previously anticipated. On July 20, the Vancouver Sun reported that researchers are recording drastic shifts in all 16 of British Columbia’s distinct ecosystems, from the coastal rainforest to the alpine peaks. Research conducted collaboratively by The Faculty of Forestry at UBC and the Canadian Forest Service shows that the range of climatic conditions within which a species can survive, known as ‘climate envelopes,’ has already moved nearly 23% in BC, a magnitude of change not expected to occur until the 2020s.

The implications reach beyond the scope of primary ecosystem services to public health. An article in the July 23rd edition of the Vancouver Sun discusses the links between warmer temperatures and the proliferation of gastroenteritis-causing bacteria in northern Europe. Researchers from Britain, Finland, Spain and the US found that instances of Vibrios, which passes to humans through seawater or through consumption of raw or undercooked fish, were greater and more concentrated during times of peak sea surface temperatures in the Baltic Sea due to a combination of warmer water and reduced salt concentrations due to increased rainfall.

It’s clear that current and predicted climate changes are driving shifts in the ecosystems we depend on, and that as a result the biodiversity that underpins these ecosystems, and even public health, is at risk. We must take thoughtful steps to address these issues, as emphasized in ACT’s 2009 Climate Change Adaptation and Biodiversity BC report, whose recommendations were built on four broad adaptation strategies for land and water management:

  • Strategic management of the working land base outside protected areas;
  • Pro-active adaptation measures for ecosystems in legally protected areas;
  • Re-connecting the landscape between protected areas to support wildlife corridors;
  • Restoration of degraded ecosystems to bolster resilience.

Lauren Klose
ACT Water Governance Intern
Masters Candidate, SCARP UBC

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Vancouver city councillor Andrea Reimer discusses the need for adaptation on Public Eye Radio

Following the unanimous acceptance of a new Adaptation Strategy for the City of Vancouver, city councillor Andrea Reimer spoke with Sean Holman, host of Public Eye Radio on CFAX 1070 radio from Victoria BC on July 29, 2012.

Andrea discusses the need for building infrastructure that prepares for climate change issues like extreme flooding and backup power supplies. Listen to Andrea’s interview online at Public Eye Radio.


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Deborah Harford discusses the importance of research on CJSF Radio

Deborah Harford spoke with Frieda Werden of SFU Ideas and Issues on CJSF Spoken Word Radio, July 5, 2012.

The conversation addressed the scientists protesting in Ottawa who staged a mock funeral procession to protest Conservative government policies they claim are causing the ‘death of evidence’.

ACT Executive Director, Deborah Harford

Deborah focused on the importance of research as a way to understand impacts and adaptation approaches while acknowledging the issues the current government faces in terms of economy. The conversation was re-broadcast on CJSF Sustainable Futures, Friday July 20.

The interview mp3 audio file (80MB) is available for download to your desktop or iTunes player.

CJSF Radio 90.1 FM broadcasts from Simon Fraser University? Burnaby. Their website is www.cjsf.ca

Related Story: CBC’s The National – Scientists protest in Ottawa. Hundreds of scientists staged a mock funeral procession in Ottawa to protest Conservative government policies they claim are causing the ‘death of evidence’

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Global News reports on Vancouver’s new adaptation plan

The city of Vancouver has commissioned a study on how to prepare for the impact of dramatic climate change.

Vancouver City Manager Sadhu Johnstone and Deputy Mayor Andrea Reimer talk with Global News about Vancouver’s new adaptation plan, to be presented to City Council on Tuesday July 24, 2012. ACT Executive Director Deborah Harford, and Tina Neale, Adaptation Advisor for the Government of BC, will be speaking in support of the plan.

Brian Coxford reports in this clip: Climate change plan – News Hour – Videos | Global BC

Related article in the Vancouver Sun: City plans to face climate change head-on
Nine-point strategy will save Vancouver ‘billions in the next century,’ says deputy manager

Update:

The Mayor and Council of Vancouver passed the strategy unanimously after the plan was presented on July 24th.

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The Conversion of a Climate-Change Skeptic

In the Opinion Pages of The New York Times, Richard A. Muller, a professor of physics at the University of California writes:

“CALL me a converted skeptic. Three years ago I identified problems in previous climate studies that, in my mind, threw doubt on the very existence of global warming. Last year, following an intensive research effort involving a dozen scientists, I concluded that global warming was real and that the prior estimates of the rate of warming were correct. I’m now going a step further: Humans are almost entirely the cause”

His article relates the results of careful and objective analysis by the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project, which he founded with his daughter Elizabeth. Read the complete article online

Richard A. Muller, a professor of physics at the University of California, Berkeley, and a former MacArthur Foundation fellow, is the author, most recently, of Energy for Future Presidents: The Science Behind the Headlines.

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Upcoming events: Environmentally-Induced Migration and Ending Global Poverty

Tracing Social Inequalities in Environmentally-Induced Migration

The conference series on “Environmental Degradation, Conflict and Forced Migration” is a partnership project of the European Science Foundation (ESF), the Bielefeld University and its Center for Interdisciplinary Research. It explores the causal relationship between environmental damage and forced migration as well as the correlation of both phenomena to conflicts and their repercussions. The series started in 2010 with three consecutive biennial conferences.

The conference 2012, titled “Tracing Social Inequalities in Environmentally-Induced Migration”, concentrates on the societal backgrounds of this interplay and is meant to integrate a social inequalities perspective into current debates. The event takes place from 9-13 of December 2012 at the Center for Interdisciplinary Research in Bielefeld. The European Science Foundation website has further event and registration information.

Working Group to End Global Poverty

BC Council for International Cooperation hosts a coalition of organizations and individuals that meet monthly to increase cooperation and information-sharing on themes, issues, or events that engage and mobilize the public to end global poverty and inequality. This working group arose from the Make Poverty History campaign.

A Conference on Migration and Global Poverty is scheduled for Saturday, October 13, 2012 at University of British Columbia in Vancouver . See the call for proposals for potential speakers.

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Building Resilience in Practice from AdaptNet

Climate Change Adaptation Network (AdaptNet) has released several new publications through their listserve, one of which is Building Resilience in Practice.

This briefing paper provides six case studies (Peru, Bangladesh, Sudan, Nepal and Kenya) of building resilience into development programmes. It offers a variety of entry points (disaster risk reduction, food security, natural resource management) and provides an evidence base for operationalizing resilience and for including processes and resources that are essential for supporting learning, adaptation and experimentation.

Building Resilience in Practice, Programme Briefing Paper, Susan Upton and Maggie Ibrahim, Practical Action, 2012 [4.47 MB, PDF]

Sign up for the AdaptNet newsletter for more great resources.

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The Elephant in the Sweltering Sun: The Human Cost of Climate Change

by Claire Havens, ACT Researcher

It’s a sad situation that plays itself out regularly in northeastern Africa. Drought-stricken and conflict weary Somalians and Ethiopians flee the hardships of their country and head south, desperately trying to make it to South Africa where life might be a little more kind. Their treacherous journeys necessitate dealing with human smugglers who have little incentive to ensure their safe passage, and tragedy often ensues. A recent BBC article reported on the death of 42 Ethiopian migrants who had asphyxiated in the back of a truck passing through Tanzania to greener pastures in Malawi. A week prior, another article detailed the tragic drowning of 47 migrants, also from Ethiopia, in Lake Malawi when an overloaded boat taking them south capsized.

Ethiopian Migrants, Courtesy of Ayyaantuu News Online

While I applaud the BBC for highlighting these important issues that we in the western world would otherwise be oblivious to, there’s a distinct lack of information on the impetus behind these migrations. What is pushing Ethiopians and Somalians out of the northeastern part of the continent with such desperation?

Valerie Ramos, United Nations (UN) humanitarian relief coordinator on the border between Somalia and Ethiopia laments, “Everything I’ve heard has said that we used to have drought every ten years [in Ethiopia], then it became every five years and now it’s every two years.”

The cause of these increasingly frequent droughts is very likely climate change. In a region with rapid population growth, rain-fed agriculture and diminishing water and arable land resources, drought and the related rise of conflict are directly linked to a changing climate. Many media outlets, however, are simply omitting this ugly truth and that’s not just apparent in international reports on climate refugees. Check out these statistics from media coverage of the links between climate change and recent wildfires that have been ravaging the Western United States. Only 3 percent of news reports mentioned one of the major causes of the fires – rising global temperatures.

Courtesy of the National Interagency Fire Center

While it might be an uncomfortable realization for westerners that fossil fuel use is directly causing misery in poorer, harsher regions of the world as well as in our own backyards, that is the reality. We need to know the truth: global warming is leading to desperation and we are not as far removed from the cause of the suffering as we would like to believe.

Omitting the terms “climate change” and “global warming” from a report on climate refugees or a story on a grandfather in Colorado who has lost his home, removes the reader from the problems emerging at home and abroad. But it also removes us from the solution.

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How Well are we Communicating Climate Change these Days?

by Tim Shah

Over the course of my internship with ACT, I learned about hundreds of communities around the world doing great work on climate mitigation and adaptation. These communities were quite diverse — from population size and demographics to geography and climate challenges — and many were using a range of policy tools to address climate change including market-based instruments and regulatory mechanisms. What was less common, I thought, was how such communities utilized communication tools to inform their populace about the risks of climate change and what can be done about it.

On communication, Adam Corner offers an insightful piece in the Guardian asking the very simple, yet indispensable question of “communicating climate change: where next?” Indeed, while we have made great strides in using instruments to address climate change  — from carbon taxes for mitigation to green infrastructure for adaptation — we tend to overlook the benefits of communicating its risks to foster greater awareness and alleviate the persistent inertia and skepticism that has crawled back in the last five years. Further, political priorities around economics — in light of the recession — have also contributed to the diminishing attention to climate change.

As Adam Corner writes “there has been no weakening of the scientific evidence that climate change – attributable to human activity – poses a range of serious risks. But there has been some weakening of the social consensus that is essential for meaningful action to minimize these risks”. Based on my previous work with ACT and my Master’s research at UBC, I couldn’t agree more with his take.

As Mr. Corner further elaborates, what was most problematic about the Climategate controversy out of the University of East Anglia, was not the impact it had on public opinion (evidently it has had no major impact on public opinion), but how it fomented a reluctance to engage climate scientists and science communicators.

Mr. Corner’s next question is: where next? This is a question I have as I wrap up my Master’s research on climate adaptation planning and as I prepare to enter my professional career where planners will have a role in facilitating the information from climate science to the general public.

Mr. Corner offers a series of ideas on how to better communicate climate change. For one, he argues that to catalyze on the politics of climate change — where he argues conservatives usually downplay it — we need to “identify the conservative values – perhaps security and belonging, or an appreciation of the beauty of the natural world – that chime with arguments for tackling climate change”.

Another recommendation is to ensure that climate change communication is subject to testing via empirical research. Empirical research can develop an idea of what communication techniques work well, and which ones need refining. Mr. Corner argues that such communication must be “synthesized and disseminated to people that need it”. Moreover, this information would need to bridge a number of professionals including climate scientists, planners, economists and science communicators to most effectively distribute the messages through a variety of mechanisms.

Scholars like Baruch Fischhoff and Nick Pidgeon argued for this approach in their 2011 paper in Nature. In short, what is perhaps needed most in the midst of this era of growing inertia is cross-disciplinary support about the impacts/risks of climate change, and cross-disciplinary communication about what can be done about this. This is no easy task, but such consensus and collaboration are the means to addressing the inertia and disengagement — from scientists and citizens alike — to mobilizing the very needed action on climate change that good communication can achieve.

Tim Shah worked as an Intern with ACT for over 8 months. He assisted with the release of the October 2011 report “Climate Change Adaptation and Water Governance” and is co-author of ACT’s “Cross-Canada Checkup: A Canadian Perspective on Our Water Future” report. He is now Research Intern at the Pembina Institute.

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Climate Change Adaptation: A Priorities Plan for Canada webinar with Blair Feltmate

Join CoP for the following webinar:

On Tuesday, July 24th 2012 from 1-2pm EDT, Blair Feltmate, Associate Professor and Director of Sustainability Practice, in the School of Environment, Enterprise and Development (SEED), Faculty of Environment at the University of Waterloo, will profile the key findings of the report – “Climate Change Adaptation: A Priorities Plan for Canada“.

The Climate Change Adaptation Project: Canada (CCAP) was designed to identify and operationalize practical, meaningful and cost-effective adaptation solutions to the most challenging impacts of climate change facing Canada.  A concise summary of the report can be viewed online.

Joining the webinar is easy! Simply call 1-647-426-3315 or toll free 1-866-387-4893, dial participant code 920492 and log in (as a guest) at http://mirarco.acrobat.com/climatechange. *If you plan to attend, please RSVP to amorand@mirarco.org.

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Research Analyst position: BC Agriculture Regional Adaptation Strategies Project

The BC Agriculture & Food Climate Action Initiative is seeking a Research Analyst to support its Regional Adaptation Strategies Pilot Project.

This project will build on the recently completed BC Agriculture Climate Change Adaptation Risk and Opportunity Assessment by developing regional adaptation strategies for three pilot communities between now and March 2013.

Please see the attached pdf for details. All inquiries should be directed to Emily McNair. The deadline for applications is July 24.

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